13 August

Horse At The Gate. Fighting For Animals, An Environmental Issue

by Jon Katz
Horse At The Gate
Horse At The Gate

For the past 15 years or so, I have awakened to the sight of some donkeys at the pasture gate. It is a beautiful, even stirring thing to see first thing in the morning, it sets the tone for my day. The donkeys gather at the gate as soon as they hear us stirring in the house, a donkey can hear my feet hit the floor when I get out of bed.

Domesticated animals need people in their lives, something the animal rights movement seems to either not know or have forgotten. People thing they are helping animals by banishing them to rescue farms or preserves, but for the domesticated working animals, this is especially cruel, it is not rescue at all but more like a life prison sentence.

The first thing I learned about donkeys, dogs, ponies, even barn cats and sheep, is how much their lives revolve around people. The minute Maria and I are in the pasture, or by the gate, all of our animals appear. They want a treat, for sure, but mostly, they want some attention. They are drawn to us, we are the source of life and connection, the grounding elements in their lives.

It is no favor to have strangers pull them away from us and leave them with no one to see and nothing to do. That is not rescue, it is just another form of abuse, the road to hell….

Now, I wake up to the sight of a pony, whinnying to me as soon as I appear. In a minute or two, the donkeys are out, they hear Maria and I coming. We give each one a carrot, then talk to them, sit with them, listen to them. A remarkable and beautiful part of the day.

My writing about Joshua Rockwood and the carriage horses, and my own life with animals,  has caused me to focus on the state and nature of working animals, I have lived with working animals for years now, they are part of the joy of my life. I see how much we love and need one another, from the donkeys to the border collies.

There is some urgency in the lives of animals now, we can  see the extinction of mammals and birds, the forced removal of horses, ponies, Asian elephants, goats from our lives. Animal rights is no longer just a political issue, it has become an environmental issue as well.

Animals are part of our eco-system, they are also part of the human experience, we so easily forget how much we need them, how much they have done for us. People drunk on the idea of animal love hardly blink at the escalating removal of animals from the world.

We need to see animals in much the same way we see water and trees and grass and food. Our ecosystem requires all of them, those that are visible, those that are not – fungi, algae, worms, insects, reptiles, and an innumerable variety of microorganisms.  When the animal rights movement was founded in the 1970’s, their belief was that animals – domesticated as well as wild – should all live in nature, in the world.

Since then, the wild has vanished, gobbled up by human greed and arrogance. Scientists warn that human beings must intervene. Last week, a woman messaged me celebrating the idea that the Asian elephants – soon to be removed from their work in circuses because it has also been branded cruel and exploitive,  mostly by people who have never seen them  – will soon be returned to the wild. I messaged her back and asked her if it was possible that she did not know there was no longer any wild for them to be returned to, we take no responsibility for what we have to them, either in their natural  habitat or in the ones we  have created for them.

She said she never thought about where they might go, she just wanted them freed of their stupid tricks.

She was shocked, she said,  to consider that soon, most of these animals will be dead, and soon will vanish from the world of humans, from the world itself. She had nothing to say about it. Human beings are not intervening in the destruction of our natural world to save it, our intervention is often in the realm of business interests, consumerism and banking, it is making our earth less beautiful and sustainable, even as our technology and consumer goods explode in volume and growth.

We seem to think we can substitute irreplaceable resources with things we make, live in and sell. Day by day, we are learning we cannot. This has been especially cruel on the voiceless animals, who can have no understanding or culpability in what is happening to them.

The removal of animals in our world, much of it – like the carriage horses – completely unnecessary and ill-considered – is the great mistake that can never be changed. Once working animals leave the company of human beings, they leave the world forever. History is rich in examples.

The animal rights movement has joined forces with industry to push the animals we can see and live with out of sight and reach, a part of the vanishing natural world. Every horse, pony, elephant or  chicken that leaves the every day world is an irreplaceable treasure.In the face of irrefutable climate change, domesticated animals are safer with people than anywhere, at least they will get food, water and shelter. So many are dying in their dwindling habitats, what is left of the mythical wild.

Every farmer harassed from his farm, persecuted into ruin is a stab in the heart of Mother Earth. Biologists who argue that animals like the carriage horses are perfectly suited to life and work with humans are ignored, politicians and ideologues team  up to ignore the impact of their loss.

Animals are a precious resource we cannot afford to lose. If they were diamonds, no one would think of removing them. They are, of course, much more valuable.  It sometimes seem overwhelming to me, but I think of this way: one animal at a time, one farmer at a time, one human being at a time. That way, it can be done.

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